MEDIA: HEADLINER - Congenial Spaniard brings an air of calm to Initiative Media. Sergio Lorca’s more subtle style may help to stabilise the agency

There are times in life when almost anything is better than the devil you know.

There are times in life when almost anything is better than the

devil you know.



Sergio Lorca may be a superlative media man, he may simply be - like old

age - so much better than the alternative, but there’s no doubting the

audible sigh of relief with which some greeted his appointment as

Initiative Media’s new European chief last week.



The amiable Spaniard - short, bald and, apparently, a thoroughly

likeable bloke - replaces Jeffrey Merrihue, who moves to a new worldwide

role that better plays to his strengths. And the agency that only a week

or two ago was mourning the loss of pounds 130 million of business now

has a fresh air of optimism about it.



Perhaps it’s not surprising that Initiative seems rather chipper about

its new chap. After all, those who have worked with Merrihue say that,

despite his sparks of kick-ass dynamism and creativity, he was just a

little too good at playing the bulldozer in the Wedgwood warehouse.

Lorca, reassuringly, is an altogether more considered player, a media

man with a proven track record at Initiative (regional director of Latin

America in the late 90s), bags of client (Unilever, wouldn’t you know

it) and media owner (Spain’s Prisa) experience, and a sensitivity that

will come as a welcome relief to his staff.



’He just gets it,’ says one of Lorca’s new team, who is already

impressed by his new colleague’s understanding of the media industry and

the requirements of a major global network - qualities that you might

think are pre-requisites for the job but which Initiative staffers are

touchingly cheered to find in their new boss.



Initiative Worldwide’s president, Marie-Jose Forissier, says: ’His keen

instincts and skilled international management experience make him the

clear choice to lead the company in Europe.’ Phew!



However, ’getting it’ is a bare necessity for the task that lies

ahead.



While Initiative stands tall as one of the largest global media networks

(75 offices in 35 countries spanning six continents and dollars 13.8

billion in global billings), it also has some issues that need serious

attention.



For a start, the recent loss of LVMH to Carat across Europe (no pitch,

just a thank-you-and-goodnight fax cooly dispatched from LVMH’s French

headquarters to terminate Initiative’s contract) and of Peugeot

Citroen’s pounds 75 million UK business (also to Carat) suggest that

Initiative’s top-level international client relationships need a little,

erm, work.



And although Initiative is a truly impressive network, there are some

local market anomalies that need to be ironed out.



In Italy, for example, Initiative languishes outside the major

players.



A similar situation in Germany was recently rectified by the launch of a

more integrated Interpublic Group media offering, with Initiative and

its sister IPG media operation, Universal McCann, working more closely

together. This formula is now an option in Italy.



Then there’s the question of Western Media in the UK, not a bad little

sister brand but one whose rationale seems hard to argue in the light of

Initiative London’s depleted client list. Once the Renault pan-European

media pitch is resolved (Initiative is still in with a chance, albeit a

slim one), there seems little doubt that Western and Initiative will

merge in the UK, and Lorca will have to weave the delicate politics

involved.



For the moment, though, Lorca won’t commit: ’There is a strong

possibility that we will merge, that’s true. We will try to do things

that are for the benefit of our clients and, yes, size does give you

power, but it’s not necessarily the best option.’



There’s also the issue of Initiative’s brand positioning. Initiative has

concentrated on being clever, trying to snaffle the upstream end of the

media market and nudge its way into the client’s boardroom.



Generating fee income from consultancy services such as the analytics

offering spearheaded by Merrihue is an important cornerstone of the

business.



Forissier says that ’growing with your clients’ business, becoming their

strategic partner, seems a more attractive proposition than piling on

billings’.



But Lorca will have to balance this positioning with the growing trend

for international pitches, where size and price are, of course, easier

yardsticks on which to judge networks than clever thinking.



Lorca, a civil engineer by training, says he’s now got to sit down and

’review all the systems we have here, make sure they’re working smoothly

and effectively’. There are no dramatic statements of intent, no rockets

being stuffed up bottoms, no unveilings of aggressive strategies; Lorca

is simply going to review what’s required.



It doesn’t make for great headlines, nor for instant public profile, but

then that was Merrihue’s forte and Lorca isn’t the devil you know.



THE LORCA FILE

1990

Lever Brothers, Spain, marketing services manager

1994

Initiative Media Lisbon, managing director

1997

IM Latin America, regional director

1999

Prisa, general manager of business development

2000

IM Europe, chief executive



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